Observations: North Carolina’s Marcus Paige dazzles in debut

Marcus Paige showed why North Carolina was voted No. 1 in the preseason

So much for the rust.

Many people wondered how arguably the ACC’s best guard would return in his first game back from a hand injury and the crafty southpaw responded with flying colors.

Paige had 20 points and five assists while making 7-of-12 shots from the field and 4-of-5 shots from long distance in the Tar Heels 89-81 win over Maryland in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Tuesday.

North Carolina was a formidable team without Paige, but his return ensures that this is still the team to beat in the ACC. With Paige and Joel Berry together in the same back court the Tar Heels have the type of breakdown ability that can take pressure off Justin Jackson and also create more layups at the rim for their deep surplus of big men.

Roy Williams doesn’t have the same type of team that he had when he won a pair of national titles in 2005 and 2009, but he still has more than enough to cut down the nets in Houston next April.

Purdue is a legitimate threat at the top of the Big Ten

Matt Painter told CBS Sports last week that this group of Boilers were definitely the deepest team that he’s had in West Lafayette, but he wasn’t sure if they were the best.

Things may be headed in that direction.

Purdue has several different people who can be the assassin on a given night and beat a solid Pitt team by 13 on Tuesday night at the Peterson Events Center despite not having senior guard Rapheal Davis (knee).

The most amazing thing about the Boilermakers’ win over the Panthers?

They didn’t have a single starter score in double-figures. When you have that kind of depth and the type of size Purdue boasts with A.J. Hammons, Isaac Haas, and Caleb Swanigan you’re going to win an awful lot of games.

The Boilermakers will challenge Michigan State, Maryland, and Indiana at the top of the Big Ten standings.

Book it.

Indiana can erase what happened in Maui last week with a win Wednesday at Duke

The Hoosiers came into this season with high expectations, but those expectations were diminished after last week’s performance at the Maui Invitational that saw Indiana lose a pair of games to Wake Forest and UNLV.

Tom Crean has one of the best offensive teams in the sport, but the Hoosiers aren’t going to compete for a Big Ten regular season title unless they start doing a better job defensively. In three games last week in Hawaii, Indiana’s opponents shot a combined 47.0 percent from the field — that’s a high number for a team that’s hoping to play meaningful games in March.

Luckily for Crean and the Hoosiers they can remedy the bad taste in their mouths following last week Wednesday against Duke in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

Losing games to solid teams who aren’t a lock to make the NCAA Tournament hurt potential seeding down the line, but the best way to rectify that is to earn huge victories — especially on the road.

Indiana has that opportunity Wednesday. If the Hoosiers beat the Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium nobody will remember what happened last week in Maui.

Trust me.

This Just In

SMU’s Nic Moore (finger) will be a game-time decision for tonight’s game at TCU, source told CBS Sports. Moore did not play in the Mustangs’ win over Sunday over Brown. He’s currently averaging 12.0 points.

Wichita State’s Fred VanVleet (hamstring) is questionable for Saturday’s game at Saint Louis, Gregg Marshall told CBS Sports on Wednesday morning. VanVleet did not play in last weekend’s Advocare Invitational in Orlando. Also, Anton Grady (spinal concussion) is out indefinitely. Grady suffered the injury last Friday against Alabama. He is currently averaging 9.0 points and 6.0 rebounds for the Shockers.

This and That

Vanderbilt big man Luke Kornet has emerged into one of college basketball’s intriguing prospects at 7-1, but is just 2-of-20 from three-point range to start the season. The sooner the Dores get Kornet back on track, the more devastating they’ll be on offense. Kornet is currently averaging 11.2 points and 6.2 rebounds for Vanderbilt, who is 5-1 overall and hosts Detroit Wednesday in Nashville.

It’s going to be real interesting to see how Louisville’s Chinanu Onuaku (9.6 points, 7.4 rebounds, 64.7 percent from the field) does inside Wednesday against Michigan State in East Lansing. The 6-10 sophomore has made massive strides in his second season of college basketball, but asserting himself and producing on the road against the Spartans’ front line is a completely different entity. The Cardinals have yet to beat anyone of significance this season and it will be a real telling point to see how they respond away from home.

Florida State is giving up an average of 72.8 points during its first five games. That’s not going to cut it if the Seminoles hope to return to the NCAA Tournament in March. The one common trait in Florida State’s four consecutive trips to the field of 68 from 2009-12: defense. Leonard Hamilton’s team is currently 4-1 overall and next travels to Iowa Wednesday as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

The biggest surprise at Providence has been the evolution of Ben Bentil. Built like an adonis, the 6-9 big man is averaging 17.0 points and 7.1 rebounds for the 6-1 Friars. He averaged just 6.4 points and 4.9 rebounds last season. Another thing about Bentil? He’s developed his perimeter game. The sophomore has already made seven 3-point shots this season after only drilling nine shots from long distance in 2014-15. Ed Cooley’s squad is 5-1 and hosts Hartford Wednesday at the Dunkin Donuts Center.

Here’s the scary thing about West Virginia: The Mountaineers have won their first six games by an average of 30.2 points and are only shooting 27.7 percent from 3-point range. What’s going to happen when this team starts making shots? Bob Huggins’ squad next hosts Kennesaw State on Saturday and then will face Virginia in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 8th.

Iona’s A.J. English scored 46 points and made 13 3-point shots on Tuesday night in a 101-77 win over Fairfield. Forget about English being one of the best mid-major guards in the country — he’s one of the best guards. Period.

Kansas State’s Justin Edwards is playing like the player the Wildcats thought were getting when he transferred from Maine. The 6-4 guard is averaging 15.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.0 assists after averaging 6.3 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 1.7 assists last year. Transfers often play better in their second year and Edwards is a perfect example. Bruce Weber’s team is going to be an absolute nuisance to play in the Octagon of Doom this season during Big 12 play.

The sleeper game in college basketball Wednesday is one of the sport’s most underrated rivalries: BYU at Utah. Larry Krystkowiak’s team is 5-1 overall and has only lost to Miami while the Cougars are 4-1 and have five separate players averaging in double-figures. This one will be worth setting the DVR for.

One mid-major conference to keep an eye on this season? The Missouri Valley. This league has four really good teams with Wichita State, Evansville, Illinois State, and Northern Iowa. Arch Madness will be OFF THE CHARTS this year in Saint Louis.

Jim Larranaga took George Mason to the Final Four in 2006. How often does he think about returning to college basketball’s most fabled showcase as the head coach of Miami? Find out here on this week’s edition of the College Hoops Today podcast.

Marcus Paige (USATSI)
North Carolina’s Marcus Paige was in midseason form in his season debut. (USATSI)

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